I was just pointed to this link: http://janeyolen.com/the-alphabetics-of-story/. Jane Yolen is a brilliant storyteller whose novels I love. In this essay from 2000, she lists, with varying levels of detail, the aspects of story she finds important, organized around the framework of the alphabet.
Some key quotes:
on story “architecture”:
… the most important beginning step is still warming
things up at ground level so you can erect your story over that
important foundation–the theme. For that is what theme really
is–the sub-basement of whatever tale the author planning to
Or, on opening lines and Melville’s classic, “Call me Ishmael”:
But what if Dorothy Parker had written that
line, instead of Herman Melville? Call me, Ishmael. The story
of a woman in love with a man who promises to phone but doesn’t.
Or if Edgar Rice Burrows had written it? Me
Ishmael, you Jane. A story about a feral child brought up by
Or if James Joyce had written it? Ishmael.
Ishmael. Yes. And Ishmael. Yes. Ishmael. Call. And yes, yes,
Or Tama Janowitz: Call me a cab, Ishy.
Or Isaac Asimov? Call me Ishmael-4000B.
Or Maurice Sendak? Ishy, once, Ishy, twice,
Ishy eats fish soup with rice.
Or Ogden Nash: Call me fishmeal.
In other words, it’s not the opening line
itself, but what it portends and what it pretends to be about.
Jane Yolen says SO much more, here (yep, same link) but you need to check it all out for yourself. Seriously. Do this.